Interview: Trudeau defends his Anti-Terrorism Act stance

The Liberal leader says he’s surprised anyone would ‘make it seem like the Liberal party doesn’t care about the Charter’

Protesters outside the Vancouver Art Gallery. (Jonathan Hayward, CP)

Protesters outside the Vancouver Art Gallery earlier this year. (Jonathan Hayward, CP)

Justin Trudeau plans to make clear within the coming days exactly what parts of the Conservative government’s Anti-Terrorism Act 2015 he would repeal if his Liberal party wins the election this fall.

In a wide-ranging interview, the Liberal leader defended his controversial decision to have Liberals MPs vote for the law, which passed in the House as Bill C-51 on May 6, with Thomas Mulcair’s NDP voting against it.

The split between the two rival opposition parties has given Mulcair a bounce among left-of-centre activists staunchly opposed to the Anti-Terrorism Act and, recent polls suggest, among enough voters to make a difference, especially in urban ridings.

Related: Justin Trudeau on fixing the way Canadians pick MPs

Among a raft of other measures, the law gives the Canadian Security Intelligence Service new power to disrupt perceived terrorist threats, rather than just gather information about them. Under the law, judges can grant warrants to authorities that allow them to violate an individual’s Charter rights.

Asked what parts of the Anti-Terrorism Act he would repeal, Trudeau said, “We’re about to put forward a long and comprehensive proposal that will go exactly to the changes we’re going to make. That’s coming in the coming days.”

Justin Trudeau

He went on to offer some examples of changes he would make if he becomes prime minister by winning the election slated for Oct. 19, including “narrowing and limiting the kinds of new powers that CSIS and national security agencies would have.” Trudeau also said the Liberals would bring in mandatory review of the Anti-Terrorism Act every three years, and introduce oversight of CSIS by a committee of MPs.

But he also highlighted what he liked about Bill C-51. Trudeau listed three ways the law will, in his view, improve the safety of Canadians: by making “preventive arrest” easier when police suspect someone may be planning to carry out a terrorist activity; by strengthening Canada’s “no-fly list”; and by improving communication and coordination on potential threats among federal agencies.

Related: Everything you need to know about C-51

Trudeau pointedly noted that Mulcair decided to vote against those measures, but added, “I’m not going to go around saying that he doesn’t care about the safety of Canadians, he’s putting the safety of Canadians in danger. That, quite frankly, is an irresponsible style of politics. I don’t think after 10 years of divisive attacks by Mr. Harper that we need to be attacking each other on the opposition side when we are in agreement that there are tremendous problems with the bill, even though there are some good elements in the bill.”

Trudeau said he finds Canadians he talks with when he travels are open to the idea of balancing security and rights. But he conceded that he may have underestimated the backlash, partly because he thought that as a Liberal he wasn’t vulnerable to being seen as lax on defending the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. (The Charter was, of course, introduced as part of the constitutional reforms ushered in by his late father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, in 1982.)

“I quite frankly—and this is maybe where I made a strategic or a calculation error—I didn’t think that people would be so divisive and so aggressive as to somehow make it seem like the Liberal party doesn’t care about the Charter,” he said.

Carousel image: Maclean's on the Hill Podcast

We’ll have more from this interview with Justin Trudeau, including a chance to listen to him on this week’s Maclean’s on the Hill podcast, which will be available on this website on Friday evening.


Interview: Trudeau defends his Anti-Terrorism Act stance

  1. Having voted for C-51, there’s probably nothing Trudeau can now do to convince me to support him – certainly not just promising to amend the Act. It was a major error that leaves me questioning his judgment on everything.

    I’ll look at his proposed changes – but he’d need to go further than merely proposing; I’ll need to see actual wording of the law to be introduced; a promise it will be his first action in the next session of Parliament, if elected; and some kind of actionable guarantee that the promise will be carried out. All of that might be enough to win me back. And from conversations I’ve had, I’m not alone in the view that he has a hard sell ahead of him.

    It might be better if he issued an abject mea culpa, and promised that he would first repeal C-51 and then take its positive aspects as core ideas to use in creating a new bill that better balanced security needs and the rights of citizens.

    • Mea culpa (which he’s kind of done here), sure. But repealing it and starting again will take a long time, especially if he’s not planning to ram bills through like Harper. So amendments are the only option.

      I still maintain he was damned either way. Voting against would have brought out the stack ads, and misinformation, and public opinion would have likely been against him for that too. This bill has worked out very well for Harper and Mulcair.

      • Trudeau was trying put Harper’s fire out from not allowing Harper to beat the drum of terrorism, an try to stop Harper from continuing a narrative about the war on terror, Tom and the NDP comes in, and throws an incendiary bomb on it, and turns it into a wedge issue. Mulcair used it as an opportunity to make the country mad, mind you without any amendments of his own, or even a clear message to what he would propose, but, like Harper, his man goal was to get the public mad, and maybe it seemed to work for now, but does that make it right, I say no. Mulcair better hope nothing goes wrong in this country, or the US(if the a attack is tied to Canada), because, I for one didn’t agree with this kind of bill first, but as I learned more about what is happening in Europe and the US presently, we are not far off from being under threat as a target, just looking at ‘VICE’ last week, June 12/15 episode, I am thoroughly convinced that this country while at war with these kinds of threats, as a country needs some kind of security bill, to prevent anything going on in this country or the US. We are at war with other foreign nations, whether we like it or not, we need to protect our own country and people, we just cant go around and think we are immune to what’s happening.

        • The problem is with most Canadians and the MSM in this country, they have that old time complacent philosophy, “Who would ever attack us Canadians, we’re such nice people, and we always say we’re sorry” ? Time to get over that naivety.

        • I don’t really blame Mulcair for trying to gain NDP support over this. He benefitted from Trudeau voting for it, because if he’s voted against the CPC would have come out full throttle and Mulcair would have also be tainted with “soft on terror”.

          I am not convinced we need the bill, but I’m also not convinced, that with additional oversight, the measures will cause more harm than good. The bigger issue dealing with young people adopting extremist views is to stop isolating and vilifying them, and on that point, Trudeau is way ahead of both Harper and Mulcair. Whatever objections i may have to this bill, I still think Trudeau is the best leader to address home grown terrorism.

          • I’m not convinced we need the bill either – but starting from scratch is better than trying to amend this mess.

            I understand what you’re saying, Gayle, and he has a lot of policies I like, but I think he made the wrong call – on this and several other fronts (see e.g. Eve Adams). Still some months yet until the election, but at this point my vote is now Mulcair’s to lose, as I don’t see JT winning me back on his promises and platform alone.

          • I would like to see ONE example where Harper has isolated and vilified young people.
            If that young person you reference is Omar Khadr, he has been under-punished for the murder he committed.
            As for Trudeau, he has demonstrated no leadership on anything and his polling results clearly demonstrate this. The more he oohs and ahs the lower he falls. While his father’s extremely socialist politics were terrible for Canada at least you could understand old Pierre.

          • And I hear you too. Things would be a lot easier for me if Mulcair had better policies, and if he was not so representative of old time politics. He is being utterly disingenuous on the senate, and his failure to speak up on the niqab issue as strongly as Trudeau (possibly because of his fear of losing votes in Quebec for doing so), suggests to me he simply does not make decisions based on principle or courage.

            It was easy for the NDP to oppose C51. It would be a lot braver for them to speak out, loudly and forcefully, within Quebec and outside of Quebec, supporting women who choose to wear the niqab during citizenship ceremonies.

            It all adds up to a great big “sigh” for me. I would be ok with an NDP government, but I am so turned off by Mulcair that there is nothing he could do to make me vote for them.

          • Harper has isolated and vilified certain segments of the Muslim community. His stupid fight against wearing the niqab during citizenship ceremonies being but one example. Those communities have young people. And those young people are subjected to racism and watch their loved ones subjected to racism every day. Hence the fact they feel isolated and vilified.

            A good prime minister would seek to remedy that instead of make it worse.

      • AFAICT Trudeau took the opportunistic route. A principled approach that befits a leader would be to take the non-opportunistic route and explain (as much and as often as necessary) why he took the position he did.

        Supporting a bill that so very many experts said is flawed on the basis that it would be fixed of its glaring problems later does indeed bring into question his judgment.

        Suppose by some miracle the CPC wins the election – how does an opposition LPC then take the government to task when C-51 is used in the way it’s designed to be used? Every time Trudeau or some other LPC MP brings up a point in question period, Harper will smile and reply “May I remind the Speaker that the Liberal Party of Canada unanimously, and thus enthusiastically, supported bill C-51. How then can they now come back and complain about something that they themselves had such a large role in passing?” And if Harper isn’t the one reminding people of this, Mulcair will be doing it.

        So, if Trudeau was going to be damned either way, at least he could have chosen the side of angels to be damned on.

        • Maybe, but then he has explained there are parts of the bill he supports. So in QP Harper just gets up, smiles and says “May I remind the Speaker, the Liberals voted against these measures to increase public safety”.

          As I say, I think he should have voted against it, but I understand the position he was in, and he has explained himself all along.

          • I agree with the you on the fact that this country doesn’t need division, it needs vision for all of it’s people, no race or society of people in this country should be marginalized and excluded from being true citizens of this country because of their culture or beliefs. I want to live in an all inclusive society, where everyone is protected from bullying and marginalization. I see Trudeau as a builder of people and not a demolition expert of people, he grew up with strong values of multiculturalism, and was instilled with them, by his parents. What I don’t understand with the media and non supporters who like to lampoon Trudeau about his so called inexperience is, with all the candidates that are on the liberal ticket with him(quit the experience in his caucus), they must have seen something in Trudeau, in order for them to line up and be a part of the liberal party. These are very reputable and competent guys and gal candidates who have faith in Trudeau and have a lot on the line if they loose.

  2. The whole thing needs to be repealed.
    Though I’d be happy to reconsider should the number of canadians killed by terrorists surpass, say, the number who choke to death on donuts.

    • So far two in Canada have been killed by terrorists and a lot more planned but discovered before they could act; overseas many many more. So, friend, how many have choked on do-nuts?

      Mo0st of the gripers here have never been in harms way.

      • Hundreds choke to death every year in this country. I don’t know how many have met their end at the hands of a donut over the years, but presumably it’s more than two.
        And no, I’m not in harm’s way and neither is the country – that’s precisely my point.

        • Oh! But it is and so are you only those that want get you are for the most part elsewhere – where you and other “citizens” sent police and servicemen and women to do the dirty work for you. So people die accidentally all over the place all the time? So what. It’s the ones who are after you that you have to worry about and you won’t until it happens to you and then you’ll bemoan ‘why doesn’t somebody do something about this?’ ISI has already said that it has its eye on Canadians. Maybe you’ll be next.

          Most of the people who worry about Trudeau I’s Charter are seeing bogeuymen wherte they don’t exist.

          • If you have any evidence that sending the military oversees does anything to protect me from IS now would be the time to present it.

  3. I think Ignatieff would not have had a moments hesitation in voting NO on the secret police bill. Am I wrong? Dion the same, but of course he can’t speak now.

    • And both were completely destroyed by Harper’s attack ads. Maybe not the best example for Trudeau to follow.

      • I guess we’ll see if the soft on terrorism attacks will destroy Mulcair.

        • Except he won’t be facing them. I suggest it was a tactical decision for the conservatives to give him a pass on this, when they would have gone after Trudeau if he’d voted against the bill.

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